Malcolm Taylor, digital expert, on team creativity and passion, data as a valuable business asset, and deluxe train travel in Japan…
Interview by Steve Long
Malcolm Taylor was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and raised in Ashford, Surrey. A Chartered Engineer with 40 years of experience in programme and project management and delivery of major transport infrastructure schemes, he has worked in many countries, the most formative being Hong Kong during the 1980s and 1990s. He spent over 10 years on Crossrail as Head of Technical Information and is a specialist in digitalisation and the application of Project Information Management. He holds a BEng in Civil and Structural Engineering from the University of Bradford and an MBA in Engineering Management from the University of London. He now lives on the outskirts of southwest London.
Which project that you’ve worked on during your career are you most proud of?
Of course it has to be Crossrail! I worked on the project for 10 years and learned about complexity within programmes of projects, as well as witnessing the importance of excellent leadership on technically challenging issues. The fantastic work and the amazing things achieved by great teams of people will be seen when the Elizabeth Line opens next year. I was fortunate to have the best team of people across a number of specialist areas in my years on Crossrail who collectively really understood what the digitalisation of projects can bring.
“I was fortunate to have the best team of people across a number of specialist areas in my years on Crossrail who collectively really understood what the digitalisation of projects can bring.”
If you could offer a client one piece of advice based on your specific area of expertise, what would it be?
Almost every decision made on a project relies on data and information. Data needs to be treated as a valuable business asset with the same rigour and importance as other resources such as people, finance and materials. Data requires proper structure, classification, consistency, organising and managing – and clients are the key to making this happen.
My advice, therefore, is very straightforward. Get things going in the right way at the beginning of a project by setting out information principles in a digital strategy to explain what is needed, when and why, and you’ll be starting in a good place. Digital technologies will shape how you can do the things you want – for example, using workflows, cloud-based systems, smart databases and mobile technology. Later in the project life cycle, operations and maintenance decisions rely on data created in delivery and handed over after construction. So, the digital strategy should be an integral part of an overall and broader delivery strategy.
What is the biggest ‘digital’ challenge that the global infrastructure sector is currently facing?
From my perspective, the challenge is for rail infrastructure owners to keep up with stakeholder and user expectations due to innovation and the rate of change in technology development. Rail projects have long gestation and delivery times and digital technology can be disruptive – albeit often in a positive way. This problem of changing technology brings out several quite difficult issues.
“Data needs to be treated as a valuable business asset with the same rigour and importance as other resources.”
Firstly, with the long delivery timeline, by the time you get to finish building and commissioning, the original client specification for digital equipment in control, communications or monitoring can be outdated. You need to work through these changing expectations and also exploit innovation during delivery.
Secondly, a difficult issue is the need to integrate the profoundly new digital systems that people want into an existing analogue world. For example, the new Elizabeth Line trains have to be capable of operating across four different signalling regimes – something never originally planned for but now has to be made to work.
Finally, just in the same way digital technologies have completely changed the automotive market, rail projects continue to be more complicated and increasingly more complex. Our infrastructure delivery models need to change to deal with the realisation that building steel frames and concrete tunnels are one thing, but integrating highly complex railway control and train management systems requires something else.
What was your most rewarding experience on the Crossrail project?
Having the best team of people working for me is probably a very selfish answer – but true! Objectively, I’d say seeing the creativity, passion and fun that people had in making some of our technology innovation ideas come to life. Examples included 5D progress reporting using 3D models on an iPad, augmented and virtual reality visualisations, smart fibre optics, and drones. The Crossrail Innovate team were brilliant. No wonder it morphed into i3P, a new innovation platform for infrastructure!
“The challenge is for rail infrastructure owners to keep up with stakeholder and user expectations due to innovation and the rate of change in technology development.”
What is your favourite rail journey, and why?
It’s difficult to single out a favourite, so I’ll go for three: Cusco to Machu Picchu in Peru for the famous Inca ruins; in the drivers cab on the Javelin Class 395 train from London to Ashford; and the many journeys I used to make on the trams in Hong Kong!
If you could travel on any rail system in the world where you’ve never been, where would you go?
Travelling in Deluxe Suite A on the Seven Stars Kyushu train on the island of Kyushu, Japan. It’s a luxury train that cruises around the southernmost island of Japan with towering mountains, lots of volcanos and great scenery. Very special indeed.
My all-time favourite track is …
Jeff Buckley’s 2007 cover version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. The song I’ve played the most over the last year, and really loudly too, has been ‘Shine’ by Emeli Sandé.